January 4, 2013

Arts Organizations and Digital Technologies

Social media, online video and pictures, mobile apps, websites, and email have transformed the arts in America  

Many cultural organizations say that digital technology gives them powerful new ways to promote events, engage with audiences, reach new patrons, and extend the life and scope of their work

But challenges arise as organizations cope with tech-driven staffing and budgeting demands and technology itself has led to concerns about everything from cell phone interruptions at performances, to increasing competition for the public’s entertainment dollars, to a growing audience expectation that digital content should be free    

Washington (January 4, 2013) — A survey of a wide-ranging mix of U.S.-based arts organizations shows that the internet, social media, and mobile connectivity now permeate their operations and have changed the way they stage performances, mount and showcase their exhibits, engage their audiences, sell tickets, and raise funds.

These organizations are even finding that technology has changed the very definition of art: 77% of respondents agree with the statement that the internet has “played a major role in broadening the boundaries of what is considered art.”

“For most of these organizations, technology suffuses their operations and their engagement activities with their communities,” noted Kristen Purcell, research director at the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, and a co-author of the report. “They are using the technologies to expand their offerings, grow and diversify their audiences, and bring technology users into the act of creating art itself.”

Some 1,244 arts organizations that have received funds from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in recent years took this survey.  Here are some of the key findings:

Overall impact of digital technologies

  • 83% of the organizations in this survey say the internet and digital technologies have made their audiences more diverse.
  • 81% say these technologies are “very important” to their organization for promoting the arts.
  • 78% say these technologies are “very important” to their organization for increasing audience engagement.
  • 64% say digital technologies are “very important” to their organization for fundraising.
  • 63% say digital technologies are “very important” to their organization for helping them use their resources more efficiently.
  • 55% say technology is “very important” to their organization for engaging in arts advocacy.

Audience participation in cultural activities is now the norm

Some 92% of the organizations in this survey agree with the statement that technology and social media have made art a more participatory experience. The internet and social media platforms have made it possible for arts organizations to encourage engagement, sharing and discovery:

  • 90% allow patrons to share their content via email, Facebook, or Twitter.
  • 82% use social media to engage with audience members before, during, and after events.
  • 52% use social media to crowdsource an idea, from possible programming decisions to the best times for sessions or seminars.
  • 35% use location services such as Yelp, Google Latitude or Foursquare to interact with patrons.
  • 28% host discussion groups or threaded conversations.

“The majority of arts organizations have embraced social media tools and, on balance, think they are worth the investment of staff time and capacity,” said Kristin Thomson, a research consultant to Pew Internet and the main author of the report. “In fact, many survey respondents reported clever ways they are using social media to not only promote their work, but also to involve audiences in programming decisions and art-making itself.”

Still, these new tools have their challenges. The arts organizations reported struggling with the implications of unfiltered public criticism, and finding the extra resources it takes to produce digital content and monitor social media. Indeed, 74% thought that their organization did not have the personnel or resources it needs to use social media effectively.

Technology use is pervasive in arts organizations

  • 99% of arts organizations in this survey have their own website
  • 97% have a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr or other platform; 56% of these organization have profiles on between four and nine social media sites
  • 94% of these organizations post photos about the organization or its work online
  • 86% accept donations online
  • 81% post or stream videos of their performances or exhibits
  • 72% sell tickets online
  • 50% maintain a blog
  • 31% offer discounts through online services such as Groupon or Living Social
  • 27% host podcasts
  • 20% present online exhibits

The mobile revolution is coming to the arts: 24% of these respondents say they use mobile apps to provide content to the public and 15% use apps to sell tickets or services.

The darker side

These arts organizations also reported about their challenges that digital technology presents. As much as it has given arts organizations powerful tools to promote, engage and expand their reach, technology has also has changed audience expectations, put more pressure on arts organizations to participate actively in social media, and even undercut some arts groups’ missions and revenue streams.

The survey also reveals some arts organizations’ concerns about long term effect that some of these technologies have on audiences, the field, and their very mission.

  • 74% of respondents strongly or somewhat agree that “the internet and related technologies have created an expectation among some audiences that all digital content should be free.”
  • 71% strongly or somewhat agree that “digital distractions such as ringing cell phones and audience member texting are a significant disruption to live performances.”
  • 22% strongly or somewhat agree that digital technologies are “hurting arts organizations by decreasing attendance at in-person events.”
  • 10% strongly or somewhat agree that “the internet and digital technologies are diluting the arts by giving everyone interested in the arts and arts criticism a public platform.”

“These organizations illustrate the story of the larger impact of technology in the past generation on all kinds of organizations — from giant corporations to small non-profits to vast government bureaucracies,” noted Lee Rainie, director of Pew Internet, and a co-author of this report. “As much as the internet and mobile connectivity have changed the lives of individual users, they have also produced sweeping disruptions in organizational activities across a wide spectrum of groups.”

About this research

Some 1,244 arts organizations that have received funds from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) between 2006 and 2011 participated in an online survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.  The online survey was conducted from May 30–July 20, 2012 and produced a diverse sample including respondents from visual arts, music, theater, dance, literature, photography, and media arts. This national, non-probability sample included arts organizations of all sizes, and represents a wide array of organizational functions, such as performance, curation, exhibition, education, and philanthropy.

Media contacts;

Kristin Thomson, (267) 971-3088 and kristinsthomson@gmail.com

Lee Rainie, (202) 419-4510 and lrainie@pewinternet.org

[1] Not every respondent answered every question. Thus, the results cited here and throughout the report are based only on those who answered a particular question.